Saudi Arabia joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization 

Saudi Arabia’s decision to join SCO, a strategic initiative led by China and Russia, is being viewed as another instance of its gradual shift towards the East. The Gulf country is also attempting to join BRICS Plus

March 30, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Saudi join SCO
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia at Riyadh’s al-Yamamah Palace in Saudi Arabia on December 8, 2022. (Photo: Xinhua)

The government of Saudi Arabia decided to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as a dialogue partner on Wednesday, March 29, making it the third Arab country to do so after Egypt and Qatar. 

The decision to join the SCO was taken in a cabinet meeting headed by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Saudi Arabia’s dialogue partner status can be converted into full membership of the group in the future.

The SCO was established in 2001 with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as members. It is the successor of the Shanghai Five group. Later, India and Pakistan also became full members of the the political and strategic grouping, and Iran is set to join by the end of this year. 

The question of Saudi Arabia joining the organization was first discussed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh in December last year. The Saudis also expressed interest in joining BRICS Plus, a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. 

The Saudi decision to join the SCO is yet another indication of its gradual shift away from dependence on the West, particularly the US, and a move towards the East, a Global Times report opined. Saudi Arabia has long been the US’ closest ally in the region. 

The move follows a rapprochement deal signed between Saudi Arabia and Iran, facilitated by the Chinese. 

Considered rivals for regional hegemony before the deal, Saudi Arabia and Iran have now agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations after seven years. Both countries also agreed on non-interference in the other’s domestic affairs. The deal also provides for establishing greater political and strategic cooperation between the two nations in the future. 

Global Times reported that Saudi Arabia has also taken further steps to consolidate its ties with China. Saudi Aramco recently signed a deal with Chinese companies to establish a joint petrochemical project in Panjin in China’s Liaoning province. The deal is worth over US$ 12 billion.